African cinema struggles to secure funding but this has not stopped the endless stream of compelling feature films coming from the continent that show talent and ingenuity. Yogera (Speak), the latest offering from the Ugandan guerrilla filmmaking collective “Yes! That’s Us’ (YTU), is a perfect example of this, writes Simba Nyamukachi.
A Uganda / South Africa co-production, Yogera, has already begun generating a buzz at this year’s international festival circuit after screenings at the Goteborg International Film Festival (GIFF) and at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).
Gertjan Zuilhof, IFFR proggrammer, found the movie to be a unique production and said: “Unlike the melodramatic acting in the Nigerian Nollywood films so loved in Central Africa, this low-budget guerrilla drama is striking for its restrained style.’
YTU departed from the melodrama usually associated with African films by adopting a neorealist style of shooting. “We wanted an intimate portrait of our character in her world with naturalness and authenticity,’ explains James Tayler, YTU writer / producer / DOP.
Yogera, an urban social-realist drama, is a tale of Hope, a deaf mute who runs away from the countryside to live in Kampala with her twin sister (G), who is not yet ready for the responsibility of the big city. After a fight with her sister, Hope runs away and wanders around the city experiencing the challenges and cruelty that Kampala holds for a person like her.
To make Yogera’s narrative convincing the film producers held a month long acting workshop with the cast. This centred on story treatment and the unfinished screenplay with the directors placing emphasis on improvising dialogue.
“We held extensive workshops and spent a lot of time with the crew from Deaf Link to learn sign language and bring across the authenticity of being deaf and mute in Kampala today,’ says Tayler. The film also features a number of deaf mute actors in minor roles.
Yogera was financed by two independent production companies – Deddac (Uganda) and Switch Media (South Africa) – as well as the Goteborg Film Fund and Arts Moves Africa. It was made for just under €10 000 (just under R100 000) using cost-saving guerrilla filmmaking tactics.
“Shoot it fast, shoot it cheap and use a skeleton crew,’ says Donald Mugisha, a Ugandan writer, producer and founder of YTU. “We shot in HD (High Definition) with a Panasonic HVX200 but we could not afford P2 cards to record on so we recorded directly onto a MacBook Pro laptop on the go. It was very challenging running around with a laptop connected to a camera but we all enjoyed it.’
To avoid drawing attention while filming in the streets of Kampala the team had to keep their camera hidden in a cardboard box with a peephole.
“We would set up without anyone noticing and then shoot on a long lens and get the actors to pop in from a completely different direction and sort of blend in with the street scene,’ explains Tayler. “This presented problems as the shoot involved city shots, moving through crowds of people and motorbikes and taxis.’
After making the rounds at the local international film festivals Yogera will be released on DVD. The DVD package includes subtitles in English, French, Arabic and Portuguese. The bonus features will include a Yes! That’s Us research documentary, interviews and music videos for songs featured on the film soundtrack.
Screenings will also be held in several township halls in Uganda.